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Maintaning good physical health and fitness has been shown to improve resistance to stress and fatigue. Managing stress and having regular medical checkups will also reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack while driving. In fact, medical certificates are mandatory for instructor, passenger service, testing officer and tow-truck light vehicle endorsements, as well as for anyone over 75, or with a medical condition.
The benefits of good health also include a more tolerant and positive attitude while driving, less risk of strains and injuries, better feeling for awareness of vehicle handling and mechanical status. Better concentration and alertness reduce driver errors and increase safety margins.
Some strategies to stay fit for driving are:
1. exercise. Driving is a relatively inactive, sedentary task. If you do a lot of driving, you need to balance that with regular, vigorous activity. Three or four 30 minute sessions of aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming or even gardening each week will maintain reasonable fitness. A good walk during rest breaks on a trip is the best exercise. There are also so many good organised programmes available, from aerobics classes, pilates to Zumba that make it fun to stay fit.
2. Exercise. Exercise needs good fuel, which means a balanced diet. Avoid skipping meals, too many fatty, fast food meals, high sugar items, cakes, sweets, chocolates, biscuits and soft drinks. Overeating makes you feel slow and sleepy. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegies, combined with carbohydrates, and proteins like fish or lean meat. Snack on fruit and nuts rather than sweets and chips. Start the day with a good breakfast to maintain healthy blood/sugar levels. Low blood/sugar can cause fatigue and fainting.
3. Rest. The importance of rest is covered in the Fatigue module. However, we also need to watch the big picture to avoid getting gradually run down. Take holidays when they are due and take a real break in the weekends. Ancient wisdom recommends one day of rest a week – try it.
4. Sleep Management. There is a popular myth that we don’t really need much sleep – there isn’t enough time for it. Taking caffeine or other things can keep us going if we need to get ahead, but burning the candle at both ends will ultimately fail. A plan to get regular quality sleep each night is ultimately the most successful one. Work out how much sleep you need and make sure you get it each night. Two short four hour sleeps, followed by a thirteen hour sleep-in, is not the same as three good seven hour sleeps. Fatigue is often worse the day following your recovery sleep. Relax and wind down before going to bed. Read, listen to music, avoid stimulants before sleep. Coffee, smoking, screen games, the news and movies and TV programmes are not good sleep preparation.
5. Injury Avoidance. The driver position, bags and belts and loose object modules describe how to avoid injury while driving. Dress suitably to drive. Remove cumbersome, protective or outdoor clothing, and remove anything that could injure you in a crash. Don’t drive sitting on a bulky wallet in your back pocket. It will tilt your pelvis and spine, causing lower back pain and fatigue. Never try to lift briefcases or other items from the passenger seats with your arm fully extended as you exit the driver’s seat. Rotator cuff injuries usually require surgery and six to twelve months of rehabilitation. Use your legs with proper straight back techniques when lifting things in and out of the vehicle. Get help with heavy items. Don’t try to be a hero and end up being a statistic.